DENVER — Heavy snow pounded the Denver metro area on Wednesday, grinding air traffic to a halt as a springtime blizzard wreaked havoc on the city just a day after temperatures reached 70 degrees.
Denver International Airport halted all air traffic shortly after noon Wednesday as a result of the conditions, but did tweet out Wednesday evening that flights would resume by 7 p.m. local time.
Hundreds of flights at Denver International Airport were canceled or delayed earlier, in part due to gusting winds that also created blizzard conditions on the state's eastern Plains.
Several interstates and major roadways in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska were closed.
Across the Denver metro area, schools and government offices closed and power flickered as the heavy, wet snow rapidly accumulated. More than 80,000 customers are without power from Denver to Fort Collins, AccuWeather said.
Blizzard warnings are in effect for much of eastern Colorado, including the Denver area, as well as small portions of Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas.
The mess is the result of a sprawling spring storm that's dumping heavy snow on the north-central U.S. and could deliver severe weather and drenching thunderstorms later in the day in the waterlogged South.
Earlier Wednesday, hundreds of people at Denver International Airport checked their smartphones, queued at airline ticket counters, or wandered aimlessly, killing time. March is the snowiest month in Denver, and many travelers seemed taken aback at the storm's ferocity, given the mild winter Denver received recently.
"What are the odds?" laughed Peter Aukstolis of Denver. Aukstolis and his new wife, Laura Hargadine, got married Sunday and were supposed to be on a beach in Aruba by Wednesday evening. The two cuddled up on the floor near a coffee shop and checked and re-checked their flights. They're being rerouted through Philadelphia with an beach arrival expected sometime Thursday.
"Will miss a day, but we're going for 10 days, and we are off for two weeks anyway," Aukstolis said.
About 21 inches of snow had fallen in 11 hours today in Louisville, Colo., near Boulder, reported Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson.
State transportation officials, in an unusual move, required all vehicles driving on major highways around Denver use four-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, chains or snow tires. Drivers reported gridlock around the city as the morning commute began.
Many locations around Denver will see more than a foot of snow by Wednesday evening, KUSA-TV reported.
Parts of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes could pick up as much as 12 to 18 inches by the time the storm winds down Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
The storm will impact thousands of miles of roadways, AccuWeather said.
Snow from the storm will also hit northern New York and northern New England by Thursday.
The Weather Channel has named the storm Selene.
Farther to the south, severe thunderstorms are forecast to fire up Wednesday in the southern Plains and Mississippi Valley. The area at greatest risk for severe weather ranges from northeast Texas to western Illinois, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
Damaging winds and large hail will be the main threats from any severe storms that develop. Isolated tornadoes are also possible, according to weather.com.
Heavy rain from the storms could lead to flash flooding over the waterlogged region.
Cities at risk for the violent thunderstorms later Wednesday include Dallas and San Antonio, Texas; Fayetteville and Little Rock, Arkansas; Springfield, Missouri; and Shreveport, Louisiana, AccuWeather predicts.
By Thursday, the threat area for severe weather will be mainly in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
A third weather hazard developed Wednesday in the southern Plains, as hot, dry winds sparked grass fires and wildfires in Oklahoma and Kansas.
One large grass fire continued Wednesday in Comanche County, Kansas, where a state of emergency has been declared, according to kwch.com. About 41,000 acres of land have been charred by the fire as of early Wednesday afternoon, the Weather Channel reported.